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Graeve, Oscar (ed.) / Delineator
Vol. 117, No. 2 (August, 1930)

Phelps, William Lyon
What he thinks of youth,   p. 12 PDF (544.9 KB)


Page 12

DELINEATOR
7
PHOTOGRAPHS  TAKEN  AT  NEW  HAVEN
BY  HAL  PHYFE
1030 iS to compare it with that of forty years ago. And immediately there ap-
pears a difficulty so enormous that it may destrov the value of any generaliza-
tion.
Forty years ago I knew the younger generation by personal and intimate
contact; I was among my peers. Today, although I am with them every day,
what do I really know about them? When some one asks me if the young men
of today drink more than formerly, I am the very last man to possess the neces-
sary knowledge. That some of them get drunk is certain; but they never come
into my classroom drunk, they never call upon me while drunk.
THOSE who believe the present younger generation have bad habits should
consider former times. In the eighteenth century, excessive drinking was the
rule. Faculty and students got drunk together. Before the Civil War in
America, there was an immense amount of drinking. The growth of athletic
games has had much to do with the improvement in personal habits. When I
was an undergraduate, there was certainly a good deal of drunkenness, though
not comparable to the excesses of earlier days.
The younger generation in my time had a narrow and provincial outlook.
They were interested mainly in the affairs of their own little world. They were
mainly Philistines: they had little respect for scholarship, (Turn to page 38)
I IfA\L known six younger generations. I have looked
:     %I a e loce around, I have looked back. I may add that I have
looked back only professionally, in the endeavor to understand the young men
whom I teach. Personally, I have looked back very little. When I was a
child. I wanted to be a man. When I was a young man, I wanted to be a
mature man. And after I had descended into the vale of years, I did not, as
apparently many do, look back with longing to the days of my youth. It is
always the new experience I am seeking; I am wasting no time in the vain en-
deavor to recapture the irrecoverable past.
The body grows old, as inevitably as autumn follows summer, and winter
follows autumn. This does not disturb my peace. But when does the man
himself grow old? I think I can state accurately the exact moment when a
person passes into old age. It is the moment when he discovers that in solitude
his thoughts regularly turn more to the past than to the present or future. In
the matchless Shakespearean phrase, the stealing steps of age overtake our
slowing bodies; but they can never catch up with an alert mind.
When I was a little boy in the grammar school, the seniors looked to me like
demi-gods; no truly great man today can seem to me quite so wonderful as
those giants. They were fourteen years old. All I can say of the youngest
generation at that time-my own contemporaries-is that they were filthy.
I wonder if the small boy today is quite so dirty an animal as he was in my
time. Apparently it was so all over the world. The great Russian novelist,
Dostoyefsky, said the small boy used language that would make a drunkcn
sailor blush. This is no exaggeration; it was literally true of the boys I k:
IIEN, later, playing in the streets, I looked with envy on the college un
graduates. They were dressed in those days like a modern stage carica
of a professor. They wore frock coats, tall hats, and whiskers, yet they wcre
in the heyday of their youth. Good, bad, and indifferent they were. I shall
never forget one degenerate, who offered me an unpardonable insult; and I
shall never forget another, who seemed angelic. I lost the ball I was playing
with; and seeing my unutterable dismay, he bent down to me, gave me a quar-
ter and told me to go to the nearest store and buy a new ball. In an instant I
rose from despair to rapture. I wonder if my benefactor is still alive. I wish
I knew his name.
Some of these undergraduates called on my sister, aged twenty. As a "kid
brother," I suppose I must have been insufferable. I can plainly remember
how uneasy these student callers were, when, out of perversity, I remained in
the room. It was clear they wished me elsewhere; wished I were in the grave.
But they did not dare to manhandle me, knowing that my sister would not
approve. So they resorted to bribery, and. like most small boys, I was venal.
In process of time, I became myself a regular member of the younger gener-
ation. The only way I can make any appraisal of the younger generation of
Through Dr. Phelps'
house in New Haven
passes the gallant
procession of youth.
Portraits of his
mother and sister
look down on the
gatherings in this
room where many
Yale men have met
before dinner
Another portrot, a
recent one of Dr.
Phelps, painted by
Jere Wickwire of
Yale, 1906, hangs
in the dining-room
of this New England
homestead, which
radiates its owner's
fine scholarship
and friendliness
I
12
WILLIAM LYON PHELPS
who has been close to several
younger generations in his work at
Yale, tells their critics
WHAT HE THINKS OF
YOUTH


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